I read in a post on the Library of Congress blog that in 1982, when Barack Obama was a 19-year-old student at Occidental College, he had 2 poems published in the spring issue of the school's literary magazine of the time.
Here's one of those poems:
Under water grottos, caverns Filled with apes That eat figs. Stepping on the figs That the apes Eat, they crunch. The apes howl, bare Their fangs, dance, Tumble in the Rushing water, Musty, wet pelts Glistening in the blue.
Obama is taking on a job that is incomprehensibly difficult to most of us. I'm delighted that he even wrote poetry as a student, and I hope that it may still have a place in his life as reader and writer. But I'm surprised by the "analysis" that these two poems have been given in the press and online lately. (I know some of you are saying that I'm naive for even being surprised.)
The second poem, "Pop," is reported to be about his maternal grandfather, Stanley Dunham.
Sitting in his seat, a seat broad and broken In, sprinkled with ashes, Pop switches channels, takes another Shot of Seagrams, neat, and asks What to do with me, a green young man Who fails to consider the Flim and flam of the world, since Things have been easy for me; I stare hard at his face, a stare That deflects off his brow; I’m sure he’s unaware of his Dark, watery eyes, that Glance in different directions, And his slow, unwelcome twitches, Fail to pass. I listen, nod, Listen, open, till I cling to his pale, Beige T-shirt, yelling, Yelling in his ears, that hang With heavy lobes, but he’s still telling His joke, so I ask why He’s so unhappy, to which he replies... But I don’t care anymore, cause He took too damn long, and from Under my seat, I pull out the Mirror I’ve been saving; I’m laughing, Laughing loud, the blood rushing from his face To mine, as he grows small, A spot in my brain, something That may be squeezed out, like a Watermelon seed between Two fingers. Pop takes another shot, neat, Points out the same amber Stain on his shorts that I’ve got on mine, and Makes me smell his smell, coming From me; he switches channels, recites an old poem He wrote before his mother died, Stands, shouts, and asks For a hug, as I shink, my Arms barely reaching around His thick, oily neck, and his broad back; ‘cause I see my face, framed within Pop’s black-framed glasses And know he’s laughing too.
Someone asked Harold Bloom at Yale University to review it and he said it was “not bad—a good enough folk poem with some pathos and humor and affection... It is not wholly unlike Langston Hughes, who tended to imitate Carl Sandburg" and further says it is much superior to the poetry of former President Jimmy Carter whom Bloom calls "literally the worst poet in the United States."
From your bright sparkling Eyes, I was undone; Rays, you have, more transparent than the sun, Amidst its glory in the rising Day, None can you equal in your bright array; Constant in your calm and unspotted Mind; Equal to all, but will to none Prove kind, So knowing, seldom one so Young, you'l Find Ah! woe's me that I should Love and conceal, Long have I wish'd, but never dare reveal, Even though severely Loves Pains I feel; Xerxes that great, was't free from Cupids Dart, And all the greatest Heroes, felt the smart.
John Tyler wrote several poems that have survived. One was written when his
three-month old daughter Anne died in July 1825. Here are the opening stanzas to that elegy:
Oh child of my love, thou wert born for a day; And like morning's vision have vanished away Thine eye scarce had ope'd on the world's beaming light Ere 'twas sealed up in death and enveloped in night.
Oh child of my love as a beautiful flower; Thy blossom expanded a short fleeting hour. The winter of death hath blighted thy bloom And thou lyest alone in the cold dread tomb. . . .